Account Manager Mike Shields explains how businesses can best avoid cliché and turning audiences and customers off...
When was the last time you understood everything a business was trying to say? When you read promotional material or business news, do you feel informed, confused or even patronised?
It wouldn’t be unusual. Not since the go-getting and power-dressing 1980s has there been as much cliché used in business. Companies are no longer simply good at their job, they are ‘innovative’; every business is an ‘industry leader’ and anybody from a start-up to a full scale corporation is ‘award-winning’. The less said of the statistically impossible ability of ‘giving 110%’ the better.
Businesses are enthusiastically using buzz words and language they feel they are expected to embrace and sadly are conforming to these phrases. It can be the ultimate turn-off for clients, potential customers and even the press.
With self-promotion comes great responsibility and there’s reams of language out there simply killing quality content and key messages before they’ve even had chance to land.
The best metaphor I can think of for the fussy language that gets attached to businesses is buying a brand new Harley Davidson motorbike, the ultimate in engineering prowess, only to attach streamers, a novelty horn and a neon paint job. All completely unnecessary and off-putting to all who might come across it.
There are of course words that are commonly despised. The term ‘Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia’ means, ironically, the fear of long words, but countless surveys have shown several phrases in business writing to be universally loathed. These include:
Thinking outside the box (What box, where?)
Drilling down (Unless you work with power tools, this phrase can be reductive)
Moving or going forward (When would you go backwards?)
By the close of play (So, before 5pm? At the end of the week?)
The message here is to cut the superlatives, keep it simple and to get to the point. Dancing around what your company does is likely to lose your audience within seconds of them embarking on reading.
If potential customers are seeking out your services or want to find out more about what you do, having to wade through treacle-thick language and mounds of cliché is likely to stop them before they even begin.
This applies on a global scale too. With recent shakeups to the economy and the pivotal changes that are bound to happen owing to global and political shifts in the past year, it’s easy to get caught up in this kind of hyperbolic and ultimately harmful language.
Politicians often speak in obtuse, grandiose terms to avoid talking about real issues, but sometimes they go the opposite way. Recent examples include the US President Donald Trump speaking in plain language (“Make America Great Again”) to appeal to voters on the election trail, which worked a treat.
Others, such as Prime Minister Theresa May, have adopted similar tactics, but have somehow fallen short. The PM’s “Brexit means Brexit” rhetoric has chimed with her supporters, coming across as definitive and final, but has been condemned as simplistic, meaningless and condescending by others.
Instead of baffling your potential clients and people you already work with, the advice should be to stop, take a moment and really think what it is you are trying to say. Speak the truth, don’t overinflate, and remain on solid ground. Of course, there is room for enthusiasm or bravado. But consider that telling people plainly what it is you do, explaining how you do it and providing some tangible results will do more to impress than a confusing barrage of meaningless thesaurus fodder.
Also, remember to back up any showboating you feel you need to use. If you describe a product as being ‘quality’ then qualify that: why is it deemed as such? Could you give a solid example? People like to see proof, not the flimsy descriptions of what you perceive your product to be.
It’s ultimately about context. Use the wrong kind of language for the situation and you could become unstuck. Plain speaking and getting back to basics is often lauded as a great way to do business, and it’s for good reasons. The key is finding that delicate balance that will mean you’re understood and respected, whatever you say.
This article was originally published by Lincolnshire Business on 30th March 2017.